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Study shows that smartphones distract even when they’re off

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By Hassan Irshad


The negative effect of smartphones on concentration is observable, affirmed by a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas. The Times reported that, according to the study, “Just having a smartphone on your desk, even if the screen is hidden, is enough to make you less able to concentrate.”

The study, which was published in the Journal of the Association of Consumer Research, involved over 500 participants who were tasked with completing a series of maths problems and remembering a sequence of letters. The study found that those with phones on the desk performed 10 percent lower on the memory test and 5 percent lower on the maths than those without.

The Telegraph, reporting on the same study, noted that “[t]he effect was measurable even when the phones were switched off, and was worse for those who were deemed more dependent on their mobiles.”

Dubbed the ‘interference dilemma’ by cognitive neuroscientist Dr Adam Gazzaley and psychologist Dr Larry D. Rosen in their book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, they describe the ‘collision’ between our furthest evolved ‘ability to set high-level goals for ourselves’ with ‘our brain’s fundamental limitations in cognitive control’ (that is, our ‘attention, working memory, and goal management’). This has resulted in ‘our extreme sensitivity to goal interference from both distractions by relevant information and interruptions by attempted multitasking’, hence our inevitable susceptibility to being distracted, particularly by the unending notifications received by the multitude of social media apps on our smartphones (and the curious need to constantly check them).

The evidence is clear: our cognitive abilities are reduced with the mere presence of our smartphones in our general vicinity, regardless of whether they are silent or switched off.

Perhaps, then, when you’re next working on an assignment, it is best to consider the advice of Thrive Global writer, Shelby Lorman: “You’re better off leaving your phone somewhere you can’t see it – preferably out of the room entirely – when you need to concentrate. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.”

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